La florinda: The performance of Virginia Ramponi Andreini
How can we write about performance in the past? I have answered this question by taking as my subject the life and work of a particular performer: the commedia dell'arte actress and singer, Virginia Ramponi Andreini (1583-1630/31). Combining the traditional archive research of historical musicology with critical reading practices drawn from interdisciplinary work in Italian studies, feminist theory and performance studies, I have displaced "the work" and "the composer" from a central position in my narrative. The history that emerges as a consequence of that displacement takes the affect and effects of performance seriously. It excavates the importance of the audible from surviving documentary traces, and also distinguishes complex performances of gender, race and social status onstage, offstage and in the slippery biographical space between the two. The specific conditions of Virginia Andreini's life make her an apt choice for a study of this kind. As a commedia dell'arte actress and singer, the thirty years of her career were spent in constant motion, travelling and performing throughout the Italian peninsula and as far afield as Paris and Prague. As a consequence, her history cuts though localised regional differences. She performed a vast repertoire of elite and popular material—musical and spoken drama, balli and intermedi, poetry and prose, written and improvised texts—before audiences in circumstances that encompassed noble courts and selective academies alongside the public theatres of Venice and the open piazza; she thus confounds distinctions between "high" and "low" culture, integrating the histories of art music and popular performance. In the process, she created a number of roles: Monteverdi's Arianna and his solo ingrata, but also abandoned lovers cross-dressed as black male slaves, biblical characters, and masturbatory, proto-lesbian women. My focus on Virginia locates early opera within a broad spectrum of musical performance and within the context of an already professionalized theatrical culture, complicating an easy division of musical and theatrical genres and contextualising the hyperbolic success of the Lamento d'Arianna.
0733: Gender studies